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Morning 9: Beyond “nice guy Stricker” | McIlroy to skip Irish Open | Opinion: Romo shouldn’t accept sponsor’s exemption

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

February 21, 2019

Good Thursday morning, golf fans.
1. More than just a nice guy
Steve Stricker is a fiery competitor and tactician who has the allegiance and respect of his players. So says Steve Dimeglio regarding the now-official 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
  • “On the surface, Stricker could be mistaken as being a softy, a man without a temper and one who is reluctant to put up a fight. That would be a mistake.”
  • “Well, everyone knows he’s such a nice guy, but beneath all of that exterior is this fieriness and this competitiveness,” Tiger Woods said Wednesday at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.
  • “In other words, Stricker is as tough as he is nice, a nice combo that U.S. players can lean on in the 2020 Ryder Cup. On Wednesday Stricker, 51, was officially named the U.S. captain for Ryder Cup matches to be played in his home state of Wisconsin at Whistling Straits.”
2. He has their backs
Interesting tidbit from Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard on one Patrick Reed.
  • “Stricker, who was named the 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, said he’s already spoken with Patrick Reed about last year’s matches and that he doesn’t expect the American’s inflammatory comments following last year’s matches to be an issue in 2020.”
  • “As far as he’s concerned, and I am, too, it’s been handled,” Stricker said. “He’s apologized and spoke to the players. He spoke to me and I kind of asked him what to expect from him. He’s like, ‘You know what, I’ve got your guys’ back. I’m there for the team.'”
3. The inside scoop
An interesting story in particular, yes, but the general takeaway–PGA Tour pros sometimes settle on gamers in extremely atypical ways–is just as cool.
  • Our Ryan Barath talked with Mizuno’s Senior Club Engineer, Chris Voshall, about the MP-32 irons Danny Lee was spotted with at the Genesis Open.
  • “We recently spotted Danny Lee at the Genesis Open and it started a LOT of discussion about classic designs, as well as whether these are new old stock (NOS) or new forgings, using the original tooling.”
  • “I reached out to Mizuno’s Senior Club Engineer Chris Voshall to get to the bottom of this interesting iron development. (Plus the idea that Mizuno has sets of 10-plus year-old irons kicking around ready for custom builds – I have a huge smile thinking about what that storage room might look like – is a pretty fun thought).”
  • “Heres the inside scoop on Danny’s irons from Chris Voshall…”The MP-32s being played by Danny Lee are a new old stock set that came from Luke Donald’s personal stash inside the tour van. The ones Danny is playing are the very last set of custom grind 32s that were made for Luke.”
4. Tiger moves Mexico
AP report on the Tiger Woods Effect at the WGC-Mexico Championship
  • “Golf is still in its relative infancy in Mexico, though the appeal changes when one of the most recognizable athletes in the world is in town. Security has increased this year, most of that because of Woods.”
  • “Grupo Salinas took over sponsorship of this WGC in the summer of 2016, when Woods was recovering from two back surgeries. There was no guarantee if his game would get back, so news of his decision to play last week was massive for small sector of golf fans in Mexico.”
  • “Tiger definitely moves the needle,” said Benjamin Salinas, the CEO of TV Azteca and lead voice for Grupo Salinas at the Mexico Championship. “When he announced he was coming, ticket sales leaped tenfold. He moves Mexico.”
5. Hot take: Romo is wrong
I’ll just let Carlos Monarrez take it from here regarding Tony Romo’s sponsor’s exemption into the Byron Nelson.
  • “Romo couldn’t get in the honest way, through a Monday qualifier like the hoi polloi who have to scratch and claw their way in.”
  • “Maybe some fans think it’s cute and harmless and will be curious to see how Romo will fare. But I’ve covered pro golfers for years, and I have too much respect for their struggle to watch an amateur with an inflated sense of himself pretend to be a pro for two days on his way to missing the cut badly.”
  • “And make no mistake, Romo will miss the cut. At last year’s Nelson, the cut came at 4-under-par. Amazing players like Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Brandt Snedeker missed the cut. Romo also got a sponsor’s exemption last March to the PGA Tour’s event in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and he finished dead last among 132 players at 15-over.”
6. Pat Perez loves his Js
Helen Ross of PGATour.com talked to the singular Pat Perez about his affection for Jordans.
Here’s a morsel regarding Double P’s meeting with his Airness
  • “The relationship developed into a business pact, as well, and Perez now wears Jordan Brand shoes on the golf course. The two text often, and his Airness even sent Perez and his wife Ashley gifts when their daughter was born last year. Oh, and Perez loves getting shipments of Air Jordans for his collection.”
  • “Perez’s only regret? One day when the two had hit the links, Jordan was wearing a pair of VI golf shoes – which were “the only pair in the world,” Perez says.”
  • “After the round, Perez says, “I can’t, believe you made those into golf shoes.” To which Jordan replies, “Well, take them if they fit.”
7. Tiger Hood doc
Golf Digest’s Alex Myers...”What began as an activity to pass the time while trying to sell his photographs has “become a lifestyle” for Patrick Barr. Better known around the streets of New York City as “Tiger Hood,” Barr now spends much of his days and nights hitting empty milk cartons with a golf club. And he’s about to have even bigger galleries watching him in action.”
  • “A new documentary titled Neighborhood Golf Association by Nicolas Heller explores Barr’s life, career, and mostly his unusual hobby. Heller, the man behind the popular New York Nico Instagram account, does a nice job of showing the charismatic local legend in his element while also getting across Barr’s beautiful message of inclusivity.”
8. McIlroy to skip Irish Open
Gareth Hanna at the Belfast Telegraph on the news that Rory will be passing on his island’s Open.
  • “The world number eight was the tournament host from 2015 to 2018 and strived to place the Irish Open among the European Tour’s top events.”
  • “However, he says missing out on this year’s edition at Lahinch will give him a better chance of lifting the Claret Jug at the Open Championship in Portrush.”
  • “The Irish Open will be played, as is the norm, two weeks before the major in July…McIlroy has previously said that he will look to play the week before the four major tournaments this season and has now confirmed his intention to tee it up at the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club rather than the week before in County Clare.”
9. Wiezy’s back
Michelle Wie fired an opening-round 68 at the Honda LPGA Thailand in her first
competitive action since hand surgery in October.
Eun-Hee Ji leads at 9 under after one round. Scores.
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Why players are living so far under par

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The PGA Tour’s tagline is “Live Under Par,” and every week we see the best players in the world take on courses set up to challenge them as much as possible. Even on these difficult courses, with pin positions tucked around greens and rough grown out beyond what many regular golfers might ever experience, we still see the pros who are playing their best get way under par and often break scoring records.

But how and why does this happen week after week? Are these courses just not challenging enough? Are players really that good? (“These Guys are Good” was the tour’s previous motto, after all)

Let’s break down a few factors that relate to scoring on the PGA Tour and why we keep seeing low scores on an almost weekly basis.

First off, we have the length. It’s not a guarantee that more length equals higher scores. Pebble Beach under U.S. Open conditions is a great example of that, but if we are to use a recent example, at Hamilton Golf & CC (host course to the RBC Canadian Open), we saw Brandt Snedeker shoot 60 during his Friday morning round, and multiple rounds in the low 60s. Hamilton is not a long course by modern PGA Tour standards, but on a day with some benign pins, little wind, and slower, softer greens (thanks to a wet week leading up), it’s a perfect scenario for someone to make a score. On top of that, to finish off the tournament we saw Rory McIlroy get on a total heater Sunday afternoon to shot 61 – with a bogey at the last, and win by 7 – yes 7!

Rough. As we saw at the PGA Championship this year at Bethpage Black, length plus rough means that you are going to eliminate more than half the field before the tournament even starts. It’s the exact reason we saw the bomber-filled leaderboard that we did.

On the opposite end of the spectrum a dry Open Championship often proves that tightly mown areas actually pose a greater risk to players than rough, since once a ball starts rolling, there is no telling where and when it’s going to stop – although a hazard is usually the answer. Average length rough around the greens makes chipping and pitching difficult, and when you add in the fact that as the week goes on the pins get closer to slopes and edges, it’s a recipe for those having the best week with their irons having the best chance to take home the trophy.

Player skill. This is the X-Factor. No matter what you do to the course fans need to realize that week to week, you have the world’s best players taking their games to every tournament. It all comes down to a numbers game. Half aren’t going to make the cut, 35 percent are going to play well but miss some putts, and the final 15 percent are going to have their games peaking and be inside the top ten.

Within that 15 percent, one or two of those players are going to be firing on all cylinders, and if you are a casual observer, that’s all you really get to see on TV, the guys on fire like Rory this past Sunday at the Canadian Open.

 

 

 

 

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5 things we learned on Friday at the U.S. Open

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If the weather forecast is to be believed, the next 48 hours of Pebble Beach weather will be a blend of cloudy, partly cloudy, and mostly cloudy skies. Rain will never have less than a 10 percent chance of falling, but never more than 20 percent. Winds will peak at 11 mph, dropping to three mph, blowing from west to east, at a variety of angles. What that consistent weather forecast means, is that golf will not be consistent.

The USGA should not need to water the greens, which means that they will slowly firm up, forcing golfers to be even more precise in the changing landing spots they select. It means that anyone who shoots the score of 65 (that was low each of the first two days), will find himself in the thick of the chase. For now, let’s take a brief look back at five things that we learned on Friday at the U.S. Open.

5. The numbers

79 golfers made the cut at 2 over, 11 shots behind the leader. Eight golfers missed the cut by one stroke, while 24 others made the cut on the number. Of the 79, four are amateurs, at 2 over, E, E and 2 under, respectively. That foursome will do battle for its own tournament medal, although none is expected to challenge for the overall championship trophy. Rhys Enoch had an 11-stroke turnaround, from 77 to 66, to make the cut on the number.

Rickie Fowler went 12 strokes the other way, from 66 to 78, to move from squarely in title contention, to 10 shots off the lead. Pebble Beach showed no favoritism to either wave, morning or afternoon. Low and high scores came during each. What Pebble Beach did do, was fray the nerves and distract the attention of the competition. The first act is now complete.

4. Brooks Koepka looks like…Brooks Koepka

True to his word, Koepka doesn’t change much. No soaring highs, no crashing lows…yet. The U.S. Open Champion of 2017 and 18, who is also the PGA Champion of 2018 and 19, stands at 4 under par, tied with four others in sixth place,  five shots behind the leader. Of the nine golfers between him and the top, three have won major titles, none since 2014. Only one of them, Rory McIlroy, has won the U.S. Open, and his win came on a rain-softened Congressional course in 2011.

Besides McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson at 1 under, and Tiger Woods at even par, no other golfer in the field has more than one major championship to his credit. It’s a wide-open weekend, so why shouldn’t Koepka have as much say as anyone in the outcome? The defending champion had half as many birdies (six to three) on Friday, but one-third as many bogies (three to one). It’s that second number that will weigh heavily on his result. The fewer the mistakes, the more likely the victory.

3. A Rose by any other name … needs another major title

In 2016, Justin Rose won the Olympic gold medal, a unique achievement in his generation. Problem is, no one knows where it ranks in terms of tournament victories. In 2017, Rose went into a playoff at Augusta National with Sergio Garcia, but came out a runner-up. The Englishman has won 24 times around the globe but lists just the 2013 U.S. Open in his major victories column.

In terms of a place in history, he needs more than one. Rose sits tied with Dustin Johnson, Jerry Pate, Henry Picard and a hundredfold of other champions of a solitary grand slam event. Trouble is, Rose’s long game is not at its best. His putting is sublime, but his driver is wayward, and his iron game, misguided. Do Aaron Wise, Chez Reavie and Chesson Hadley pose a threat to the man currently in 2nd place? Probably not. It’s the Oosthuizens, the McIlroys and, of course, the Koepkas that demand that Rose preserve his pristine putting stroke, while getting his long game in order. This is the elite of the elite, after all. No excuses, no margin for error.

2. Will the U.S. Open see another, first-time major champion?

Five of the last seven U.S. Open champions had not previously won a major title. Two of the last three Open champions at Pebble Beach (Graeme McDowell in 2010 and Tom Kite in 1992) made the Open their first major victory. For those reasons alone, names like Wise, Hadley, Reavie, Kuchar, and Wallace should not be eliminated from consideration this weekend.

True, the U.S. Open environment is a cauldron of pressure, increasing in constriction as each nine holes passes. At the same time, Koepka, Johnson, Kaymer, Rose and Simpson each had to find something yet unknown, to push aside the detractors and gain admission to the exclusive club of Open champions. Pebble Beach is a known commodity to PGA Tour regulars, so the putting might not be the greatest concern of the final 36 holes.

What will come into play, are the playing corridors. Fairways essentially cut in half, pushed left and right toward hazards and other dangers, a fraction of the width normally seen in February. The sure thing is that there is no certainty. The holder of the champion’s silver come Sunday might as soon be a first-timer as a repeat winner. Time will tell. After all, things like this could happen to anyone.

1. Gary Woodland is in uncharted territory

On the bright side, Gary Woodland played around Pebble Beach in 65 strokes on Friday. Six birdies against zero bogeys added up to the low round of the day and a two-shot advantage over Justin Rose. Also on the bright side, Woodland has hit 22 of 28 fairways, and 26 of 36 greens in regulation over the first two days. The leader has three PGA Tour titles to his credit, including Phoenix in 2018.

On paper, Woodland looks like a good bet to hoist the trophy on Sunday. That’s where the confidence begins to wane. Woodland’s track record in major events is improving, with consecutive top-10 finishes in the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships. His best U.S. Open finish, though, was eight years ago, his only top-30 finish in the event. Woodland tees it up on Saturday in the final pairing, with the 2013 U.S. Open champion. No time like the present to find out if a step to the next level is in the offing.

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Morning 9: Record Rose | Tiger’s iron game betrays | Plenty more from Pebble

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

June 14, 2019

Good Friday morning, golf fans.
1 Rose starts with 65
AP’s Doug Ferguson on the synergy…”Justin Rose played alongside Tiger Woods, and then joined him in the U.S. Open record book at Pebble Beach.”
  • “In a gentle start to the toughest test in golf, Rose birdied his last three holes Thursday for a 6-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead on a day so accommodating that more than three dozen players broke par.”
  • “It was an ideal start for Rose and for the USGA, which wants a smooth ride after four years of various mishaps in the U.S. Open. The idea was to start safe and make the course progressively more difficult, and a forecast of dry weather for the week should make that easier to control.”
  • “Rose knew what was at stake when he blasted out of a bunker short of the par-5 18th to about 12 feet. He was watching the telecast earlier when Rickie Fowler had a birdie putt for a 65 to tie the lowest U.S. Open round at Pebble Beach, set by Woods in the first round of his record-setting victory in 2000.”
2. “One of his better rounds”
Ryan Lavner at Golf Channel on Rickie’s start…
  • “With little wind and receptive greens, Fowler missed only one fairway and just three greens on his way to a 5-under 66 that shared the early lead at Pebble Beach.”
  • “It’s probably one of my better rounds I’ve played in a major,” he said Thursday.
  • …”It’s been a long road to get to the point where majors felt like another week, because they are bigger. They’re majors,” Fowler said. “But it’s time to soak it all up and have some fun.”
3. O’Connell recovering
Golfweek’s Dan Kilbridge on Kevin O’Connell’s wild week at Pebble…
  • “It was a little bit of a blur, because literally 10 minutes later I was throwing up in the fairway on eight,” O’Connell said Thursday.
  • …O’Connell said he wasn’t feeling great when he started his practice round Tuesday, but he didn’t think much more of it. By the time he got to No. 7 he was in trouble, so much so that he couldn’t even enjoy the ace.
  • …A nasty case of food poisoning had already started to take hold.
  • “I had a stomach ache, but I didn’t know it was full-on food poisoning like I was gonna be vomiting,” O’Connell said. “I could kind of tell when I walked up the hill on eight and started sweating a lot, I kind of had that feeling. … Honestly when I hit it in the hole on seven, I don’t want to say I didn’t care, but I was feeling pretty bad. I was ready to get out of there.”

Full piece.

4. Not so much for Phil
  • Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Mickelson remains in pursuit of the final leg of the career Grand Slam, and this week that quest brings him back to a familiar venue in Pebble Beach. But the conditions he encountered Thursday morning weren’t a far cry from those he saw in February en route to a win at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, as many big names in the field feasted on a soft layout that will undoubtedly become more difficult as the week progresses.”
  • “But Mickelson was stuck in neutral, making just two birdies against three bogeys en route to a 1-over 72 that left him six shots off the early lead. He made just one putt outside of 10 feet all day, that coming on the difficult 10th where he salvaged par, and he missed a 22-inch putt on No. 3 that led to a bogey.”
  • “There was a good opportunity to score, and I played better than I shot,” Mickelson said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to get a few shots, and I just didn’t do it.”
5. Tiger struggles with irons
George Willis at the NY Post on Woods 1-under opening effort…
  • “After playing the front nine in 1-under, including a double-bogey on the par-3 fifth, Woods played the back nine in even-par, draining putts from as far as 30 feet to keep his scorecard in red numbers. He’ll start the second round five shots behind Justin Rose, who fired a 6-under 65 on Thursday.”
  • “It was typical Pebble Beach where the first seven holes you can get it going and then after that you’re kind of fighting and kind of hanging on,” Woods said. “I proved that today. I had it going early and had to fight off through the middle part of the round and hung in there with pars. I’m very pleased to shoot under par today.”
  • “He made a 30-footer to save par at the par-5 14th, and scrambled out of the bunker to make a 7-footer for par at the 17th. He closed with his 10th straight par at the 18th after his second shot landed in the bunker left of the green.”
6. Who is Sepp Straka?
Scanning the U.S. Open leaderboard, it’s a question plenty are asking. Thanks to Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols for putting a prime together.
  • “…The Straka brothers played college golf together at Georgia, with Sepp staying on for a fifth season. Sam, who was born two minutes before Sepp, went into commercial real estate for three years after graduation but recently decided to give golf another go. He’s currently playing on mini tours in the southeast and plans to try for Web.com Q-School later this year.”
  • “They’ve spent their entire lives pushing one another. Both share a career-low round of 62.”
  • “When we were growing up, any time I played golf, good or bad, I always asked what Sam shot,” said Sepp. “That’s the one guy you want to beat in the field.”
 
7. Good start for Rory
EuropeanTour.com report on Rory’s opening round…
  • “All four of McIlroy’s previous Major Championship wins came after a first round in the 60s and the 30-year-old will hope that sequence continues in California after an opening 68 which left him three under and continued his recent fine form.”
  • “The former World Number One has moved up to third in the Official World Golf Ranking after a win last week on the US PGA Tour, his second of the season to go with top tens at the WGC-Mexico Championship, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and US PGA Championship.”
  • “The Northern Irishman started on the back nine and made a bogey on the tenth after pulling his approach into a bunker but birdied the 13th and then hit a superb tee shot on the par three 17th to set up another.”
  • “After scrambling for a par on the 18th, McIlroy picked up further shots on the second and third and also rattled the pin from 15 feet for par on the fifth after duffing his chip from heavy rough.”
8. BK
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard on Koepka’s opening 69…
  • “…Maybe this is the ultimate chip for a player who relishes the role of being the overlooked superstar. Although he’d mentioned a promotional spot for this week’s championship that didn’t include him as a perceived slight, perhaps the real fuel comes from the idea that this wasn’t supposed to be his kind of course.”
  • “It certainly didn’t look that way early in his round when the two-time defending champion birdied four of his first six holes to move to within a stroke of the early lead.
  • “There were hiccups coming in – a missed green at No. 8 that bounced hard and into the hay, a wayward drive at No. 13 and a tee shot at the iconic 17th hole that airmailed the green. They all led to bogeys and added up to a 2-under 69 that was four shots off the pace set by Justin Rose.”
9. So your dad wants to play golf?
Andrew Tursky talked to PGA Pro Anne Cain about the particulars of getting your holdout father started playing golf ahead of Father’s Day.

“…To help us sift through the clutter, and get dad started the right way, PGATOUR.COM recently spoke with Anne Cain, a Top-100 ranked instructor from the PGA TOUR Academy at World Golf Village. Cain was an All-American at the University of Georgia, played golf professionally, and then went on to coach dozens of TOUR players and collegiate competitors”

PGATOUR.COM: What are the essential purchases that need to be made to start playing golf?

ANNE CAIN: “I think a good starting set is a putter, wedge, 7-iron and driver.”

PGATOUR.COM: Should you spend more money on lessons or a club fitting/new equipment?

ANNE CAIN: “I would recommend spending more time on lessons initially. A good instructor should be able to guide you on future club purchases, as well.”

PGATOUR.COM: Do you recommend group lessons, or one-on-one lessons?

ANNE CAIN: “I recommend private lessons if your budget allows for it. Imagine taking piano lessons in a group – you are not going to get the same individual attention as you will in private instruction. Group lessons are better for socializing or getting info on a particular shot within the game.”

Full piece. 

 

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